Can you catch a yawn from a cat?

02 December 2014

Question

Can you catch a yawn from a cat? Matthew really wants to know because his wife claims to feel lazy all day holding her cat...

Answer

Dr Hugh Matthews from Cambridge University explains why yawns are catching. Yawning seems to have very little to do with breathing itself. Even unborn babies yawn and they don't need to breath yet. One reason why we yawn is that we may be trying to stay alert or vigilant during the transition between the wakefulness and sleep. This happens in nearly all animals and may in part be a sensory response to muscle contractions from the yawn. But in some mammals, it plays an emotional role too, to help calm you down before or after stress. For example, a cat or a dog might yawn more at the vets and if human athlete might yawn repeatedly just before a race.Yawning could also be contagious. Catching a yawn requires the ability to involuntarily empathise with others. So contagious yawning was believe only to happen in humans and other great apes. However, some psychologists have recently found that dogs can catch yawns from humans too, suggesting that these social animals may have a surprising degree of empathy with their owners. Nevertheless, while you might be able to catch a yawn from your cat, I think that it's less likely that your cat would be able to catch a yawn from you.

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